by Ulises Silva
At least, that’s what Hollywood says.
In Hollywood, it’s all about make-believe. After all, film studios make their money by making crazy stuff up—though I’m still not sure what made them think a Yogi Bear movie was the way to our wallets. As long as moviegoers fork over $12 to suspend disbelief, studios will keep making crazy stuff up—like alien invasions, intemperate fish, and anything Roland Emmerich looks at.
One day, they might even decide to make up Latinos and Asians (assuming someone doesn’t politely remind them that, uh, we already exist). In the meantime, they’ll gladly make do with white actors, and the confounding notion that Latinos and Asians don’t watch movies.
Case in point: Warner Bros.’ upcoming big-screen adaptation of the Japanese Anime classic, Akira. Despite Akira being a Japanese movie with Japanese lead characters in Neo-Tokyo (i.e., a Japanese city), Warner Bros. is reaching out to decidedly non-Japanese actors to play the lead roles. Because, clearly, the last movie based on Asian motifs cast with white actors did so well.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the creative-liberty debate, Johnny Depp has opted not to play Pancho Villa in the upcoming biopic of a historical figure who killed white people, was hunted by white people, but was decidedly not white. Thankfully, Benicio Del Toro is rumored to be a replacement; for a moment, I thought it’d be Jack Black. But if anyone ever does a biopic on, say, Akira Kurosawa (he of Seven Samurai fame, a film that was itself whitewashed into The Magnificent Seven), they’ll probably cast Richard Gere.
Blackface minstrelsy seems alive and well thanks to Hollywood executives who don’t seem to think Latinos and Asians exist. Well, that’s an exaggeration. Latinos, Asians, and other ethnic groups exist in their minds—when they’re thinking of whom to cast as Nameless Janitor 3, Asexual Karate Master 6, and Arab Terrorist 142.
In the meantime, they’re ignoring the economic and social implications of this whitewashed approach to filmmaking. On the one hand, they’re ignoring the hard data that suggests Asians and especially Latinos have tremendous economic clout, making any argument that we can’t be marketed to utterly ludicrous. More importantly, they continue to tell young people of color that the best they can aspire to, especially as aspiring actors, is a nameless janitor, an asexual karate master, or a terrorist.
Fortunately, unlike half the characters we portray in films, we’re not silent. Once again, the Asian community is mobilizing to protest Akira, including Star Trek legend George Takei, who encouraged his Twitter followers to sign this petition. And we Latinos sure know how to speak out when we’re ticked off.
This is a good opportunity for the Latino community to support our Asian friends. All of us are being whitewashed from Hollywood, and maybe it’s time we collectively demonstrate how much these studios stand to lose if they insist we don’t exist.
Think of it this way: 15 years from now, when the Being Latino movie comes out, who do you want to play Lance Rios? A guy named Sanchez, or a guy named Smith?
To learn more about Ulises, visit Digital Decaf.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.